Case study

Freelance assistant stage manager — Sean Edwards

Working on a West End production, Sean loves the difference that theatre can make to people's lives. Discover more about his role as technical swing

How did you get your job in stage management?

I studied for a degree in stage management at Birmingham City University and now work as a freelance assistant stage manager.

I got my current job as technical swing on the show Everybody's Talking About Jamie through seeing an advert for the position on a Facebook page called Backstage Jobs. I applied by sending my CV to the current stage manager on the show. I had an interview at the theatre and within a few weeks was successful in getting the job.

What's a typical working day like?

Due to the nature of theatre, every day I'm kept on my toes. We have eight shows in total per week. Typical working hours are 5pm to 10.30pm, apart from on Wednesdays and Saturdays when we have matinée performances - on these days, we'll work from 12.00pm to 10.30pm.

My role as tech swing entails covering various other members within the department. I cover both assistant stage manager (ASM) plots and am also a book cover, which essentially means that I call the show in the absence of the deputy stage manager. I also cover operating automation, and take care of the mechanics of the desks in the show, which is another large part of my job.

My role allows the department to rotate staff, allowing float days and holidays throughout the year, which sadly isn’t something you're offered on shorter contracts.

What do you enjoy most about stage management?

I love hearing positive stories from people who attend our productions, and how theatre affects the lives of others, either emotionally or for educational reasons.

What are the challenges?

The biggest challenge I face on a daily basis is the risk involved with theatre - anything can happen at any moment. As each performance is live, different challenges can arise every day and I need to be ready at all times to solve any unforeseen problems.

How relevant is your degree?

My degree is extremely relevant as it gave me a wide skills base and a large number of contacts that I needed to find work. It essentially provided a firm foundation for me, going out into the real world after graduation. I was able to use all the skills I developed - and my passion - to find work, which can be challenging at times as a freelance worker.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

With each and every job, I've developed new skills and enhanced ones I already had. This particular role has allowed me to gain new skills in different areas of stage management and has also given me the opportunity to branch out into the more technical aspects of theatre.

Working freelance means I've been able to build up a broad range of experience, which has helped me progress my career to the West End.

My ambition was to make it into the West End, which I've now done. Having achieved this aim, I want to move up to the position of stage manager within the next five years. However, I may branch off into other areas of theatre, as working six days a week can be challenging when trying to strike a work/life balance.

What are your top tips for getting into stage management?

  • Get a degree in stage management, or gain experience in crewing at receiving house theatres.
  • Make as many contacts as you can and email your CV out to stage managers, even if they're not currently looking for crew.
  • Use resources such as the Stage Management Association (SMA), Mandy and Facebook groups to find job opportunities.

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